Trying to Rank Great Cognacs

As a whiskey drinker, I’m always surprised at my first sip of cognac: it’s really smooth. Taste a succession of increasingly older and more expensive cognacs, and that smoothness will increase accordingly.

At Liquor.com’s cognac tasting at the Brandy Library in TriBeCa on Monday night, I got to experience that smoothness at its finest. As I wrote yesterday, the evening’s main attraction was a $2,000 bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac, which was measured out in very small quantities to about 40 eager drinkers.

But there was much more to the event than a thimble-full of Louis XIII. In all, six cognac producers were offering tastes of their XO-grade bottles (aged at least six years): Rémy Martin, Bache-Gabrielsen, Pierre Ferrand, Louis Royer, Camus, and Château Montifaud.

My girlfriend and I agreed that $190 Bache-Gabrielsen Hors d’Age Grande Champagne Cognac, aged 50 years (a blend, the oldest from around 1917 and the youngest from the 1960s), was our favorite. It was remarkably smooth, with a very long finish and some complex fruit flavors that were unexpected. I can’t emphasize this enough—it was the best cognac, and possibly the best liquor I have ever tasted.

The story behind the brand is an interesting one. It was founded in 1905 by Thomas Bache-Gabrielsen, a Norwegian officer who came to France and bought the A. Edmond Dupuy cognac house. Bache-Gabrielsen settled there and married the daughter of a local wine producer. Today, their great grandson Hervé Bache-Gabrielsen runs the business, and maintains strong ties to Norway. For some reason, the cognac they produce is marketed as Bache-Gabrielsen in Scandinavia and the U.S., but as Dupuy in the rest of Europe. The company makes cognacs at all levels, as affordable as $23 for the very drinkable 3 Kors four-year-old cognac.

Rémy Martin XO ($130), aged 10-37 years was very good, so good that it seems petty to mention that it had a slight bite to it that the Bache-Gabrielsen didn’t. Like the Bache-Gabrielsen, it had a long, complex finish. We tried this along side Rémy’s 1738 Accord Royal (about $50), and the difference was clear: the XO was quite a bit better. It’s funny to say that, because the 1738 Accord Royal tasted wonderful. To try them side-by-side though, you really taste the extra aging.

We tried two from Louis Royer, including the XO ($150). Initially, I thought this was a $110 bottle, which would have made it an exceptional value. When I searched online, I found it at Park Avenue Liquors for a bit more. It had absolutely no bite, and the flavor was mildy mapley. When I went back to research the brand, I found two odd facts: first, apparently all the Louis Royer cognacs are kosher. Second, the spirits critic Paul Pacult really doesn’t like them, at least not according to reviews of his from 2007. We thought they tasted quite good, and perhaps Pacult has changed his mind.

The last table we visited for the evening was Pierre Ferrand. The Cognac Réserve ($58), aged 20 years was amazing. I chose this one to write about because it was not only superb, it was less than $60. Sure, the $120 Ferrand Sélection des Anges is marvelous, but this is too, and it’s half the price.

In fact, tasting the Ferrand range made me scrap my initial idea of ranking my favorites. The Ferrand cognacs were so consistently great-tasting that it threw everything else off. And another great thing Ferrand does: rum. The story goes that the company had been selling cognac casks to the Caribbean, and decided to get in on the rum aging. They now offer vintage rums from Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Trinidad, and St. Lucia, all aged in Ferrand cognac barrels.

So to summarize, my favorite was the $190 Bache-Gabrielsen Hors d’Age Grande Champagne Cognac, and the best value was the $58 Pierre Ferrand Cognac Réserve. If I had to choose a second favorite, it would be a tie between the Rémy Martin XO and some of the better cognacs from Pierre Ferrand. Thanks again to Liquor.com and the Brandy Library for producing such a great event.

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2 Responses to Trying to Rank Great Cognacs

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Trying to Rank Great Cognacs | -- Topsy.com

  2. Thomas says:

    That’s a great idea to rank Cognacs! If you are interested in cognac news and bottles, visit the No. 1 website on Cognac which delivers information, directly from Charente, France.

    The Cognacs you describe are indeed great products, especially the Bache-Gabrielsen bottles.

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